Reston Town Center Christmas Tree Lighting & Sing-Along with Reston Chorale

Reston Town Center Christmas Tree Lighting & Sing-Along with Reston Chorale
Reston National Golf Course on a Wintry Reston Day

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Greater Greater Washington reviews Silver Line usage--and Wiehle is the most used station!

Based on interactive maps generated on WMATA's PlanItMetro website, GGW offers the following insights on use of the Wiehle-Reston Metrorail station:

Wiehle-Reston East gets the most passengers overall
Wiehle-Reston East currently handles the lion's share of passengers at new Silver Line stations, partly because it's a hub for transit riders whose bus routes take them there or who use the station's large park-and-ride garage. Wiehle-Reston East's ridership base is a lot like other stations at the end of Metro lines: the overwhelming majority of its riders are inbound commuters who enter on weekday mornings and exit on weekday evenings.
Interestingly, Wiehle is also the largest single commuting destination on the Silver Line. On the average weekday during the morning peak, about 1,000 passengers exit at Wiehle, compared to about 5,000 entries. Even though Tysons Corner is a jobs hub, only about 900 people exit at that station during the same period. At the four stations in the Tysons area, there are about 2,100 combined exits during this period.
The Wiehle number is impressive because more people exit at Wiehle Avenue during the morning peak than exit from any other terminal station. Wiehle's 1,046 average exits trumps the next-best terminal, Shady Grove (with 977 average exits).
Also interestingly, Wiehle's ratio of entries to exits is the smallest of all the terminal stations (meaning it's the most tilted toward exits). At Wiehle Avenue, for every exit, there are 4.9 entries. That compares to 6.1 entries for every exit at New Carrollton, 7.3 at Greenbelt, and 7.5 at Largo.
Some of this ridership is likely due to people connecting to buses bound for Reston, Herndon, and Dulles Airport. But there are some office buildings around the station as well.
Ridership at Wiehle will likely change once Phase Two is complete: many passengers who currently arrive on buses, or take them to destinations like Reston Town Center or Dulles, will instead start boarding the Silver Line farther down the line.
While it is reasonable generates more morning boardings than other SL stations because it is at the end of the line, it is pleasantly surprising that it also generates more morning exits than any other endpoint station in the system as well as major job hub Tysons.  Apparently, Reston IS a destination!

While the people of the County weren't looking . . .

. . . The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday approved a "strategic plan" that quadruples the area now intended for high-density commercial and residential "transit-oriented development" by doubling the radius of high-density development around key transportation nodes, such as Metrorail stations.  

Specifically, under the section outrageously and incongruously titled, "Create Places Where People Want to Be," the plan establishes the following goals:
  • Section 2.2a:  "Explore creation of 20 Minute Neighborhoods where a variety of housing options and jobs are linked by high capacity transit to support clusters of opportunity and innovation."
  • Section 2.3:  "Support higher density mixed use development in the designated revitalization  areas, as a way to attract new businesses and residential growth.  . .
    • 2.3b:  "Include the concept of expanded Transit Oriented Development (TOD) in future planning efforts by increasing the radius distance recommended for higher densities from ¼ mile to at least ½ mile around mass transit stations, such as Metrorail, light/ heavy rail, or other rapid transit stations." 
At present,  the totality of a TOD area is called the "half-mile circle" around a Metrorail or other transportation hub under the County's Comprehensive Plan and is the foundation of transit-oriented development analyses and recommendations expressed by every smart growth group in the world.   The reason for the "half-mile circle" is pretty simple:  People won't walk more than a half mile (or ten minutes) to or from transportation hubs.  Indeed, inbound workers are generally reluctant to walk more than 1/4-mile while outbound residents will walk up to 1/2 mile to a rail station; hence, "the half-mile circle."  This fact was well-documented by the County's own TOD committee that led to the County's TOD plan more than a decade ago and was reinforced in a WMATA study of Metrorail usage in 2006.

But the County's Economic Advisory Commission (EAC), comprising only 12 citizen representatives--one for each supervisorial district (appointed by guess who)--out of the 40 member commission, doesn't care about the reality of human behavior, only the opportunity to increase development, profits, and maybe tax revenues.   So rather than acknowledge the limits of human willingness to walk to mass transit rather than drive, they simply doubled the radius of the proposed boundaries for high-density development.  The notion that people will walk 20 minutes--a mile--is utterly ridiculous, and doubling the internal ring from a 1/4 to 1/2 mile of predominantly commercial (office) development is equally fallacious in terms of the reality of "walkable neighborhoods" and even "places where people want to be."

The critical implication of these changes (and the others in this strategic plan) is that they lay the foundation for developers to advance changes for high-density development in the Comprehensive Plan in Reston, Tysons, and elsewhere across the County that have major transportation nodes.  As developers move forward with the changes in the Comprehensive Plan, they can then build up to four times as much office space, retail, housing, and more--all with limited parking because of alleged "walkability"!--and quadruple their revenues and profits as well as increase the property taxes paid to the County.  And the plan ignores totally the fact that office workers are now using about 1/2 the space per worker that they have historically--meaning that office jobs could expand eight-fold!   Of course, all those taxes and profits will, in fact, be paid by residents, consumers, and other tenants of the high-density developments. 

And, oh yes, people will drive to work, to shop, and to other places they need to go because their "walkable neighborhood" will be at least twice the size they are willing to walk.  Expect greater congestion, not better roads.

How any of this will "Create Places Where People Want to Be" defies logic, analysis, and history.  It certainly will not improve living, working, shopping, or playing in Fairfax County.  The only people who appear to benefit from these changes are developers and maybe County tax troves.

For those who are interested in reviewing the "strategic plan" approved by the Board, here is a link to it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Silver Line: The Continuing Saga of the Metrorail Line without Rail Cars

Almost everyone has been pleased with the launching of the Silver Line last June, and Restonians have been quick to embrace it as another vital means of transportation in a congested corridor.  But the Silver Line is running on old, borrowed railway cars that are less reliable and even less safe than their newer counterparts.  

This is not news to WMATA which has a series of contracts and options in place with Kawasaki to address the increasingly antiquated rail cars throughout the Metrorail system the inadequate number of railway cars on the Silver Line.  In fact, the initial contract for the Series 7000 cars was signed four and one-half years (August 2010).  Overall, the contract calls for the construction of up to 748 of a new Series 7000 Kawasaki cars for Metrorail.  Here are the particulars as presented to the WMATA Customer Service and Operations Committee in an October 2013 update:

As this background section indicates, 64 of the cars were intended for Phase I of the Silver Line and another 64 with the completion of Phase II.  The 64 Series 7000 cars for Phase I were due to be delivered last month.  In fact, the following graphic depicts the delivery schedule as of October 2013--and there have been no updates published since to our knowledge:

Last week, the Washington Post wrote a rather discouraging article on progress in meeting these delivery deadlines.  It states in part:
After more than a year of running tests and blowing past expected deadlines, Metro promised Thursday that it was only a few weeks away from announcing the launch date for a new series of advanced railcars.
The stainless steel 7000-series subway cars represent a planned $2 billion modernization of Metrorail’s stock. The transit agency hopes to introduce 748 of the cars over the next three years as part of a plan to run all eight-car trains during rush hour, while also replacing the transit agency’s oldest cars, which date to the 1970s.
Eight of the new cars, the first batch acquired by Metro, have been undergoing tests since early 2014. . . .
Metro officials had earlier predicted that the new cars would start carrying passengers by mid-January. But at a meeting of the transit agency’s board of directors on Thursday, officials said that testing was still ongoing, and some board members expressed frustration with the delays.
Tom Downs, a member of the board’s safety and security committee, and a former Amtrak chief executive, said transit authorities had a “responsibility” to tell the public “when they can expect to see the 7000-series cars on the rails.” . . .
Interim General Manager Jack Requa assured the Metro board on Thursday that the transit agency would announce a release date within a few weeks. “We’re all waiting,” Downs said.
According to Metro’s working timetable, 56 of the new cars are expected to be in service by this summer.
But each batch of four cars, arriving from the Kawasaki Rail Car factory in Nebraska, will have to go through testing on local tracks before the cars can take on passengers.
The Tri-State Oversight Committee, which monitors Metro’s safety, said it had finished its own review of the new railcars, but that Metro still needs to complete the cars’ safety certification — a step that Metro officials say has already happened.
“That is in their mind,” said the committee’s chair, Klara Baryshev. “In our minds, it is not.”
 . . . the next (WMATA) general manager will come under immediate pressure to secure the extra $1.47 billion that Metro needs for 220 of the new cars.
Metro officials expect to resolve the funding issue by the time the D.C. Council and the Maryland and Virginia legislatures finalize their budgets in spring.
The offer price for the remaining cars will expire in June, and transportation experts fear that the price could spike after that. . . .
And there you have it:  Not a single rail car has been put into service, indeed none have apparently been certified for use, only a few have arrived, and WMATA is looking in other peoples' pockets at a late hour to come up with the $1.5 BILLION to finance the the purchase of 220 more of the new cars.   But delivery of few Series 7000 rail cars is expected to begin "soon," according to WMATA officials.

And the WMATA Board just decided to NOT raise fares this year.  Go figure!

This unfinished story nightmare all just leaves our head shaking at the inability of any of the responsible players in this "initiative" to actually complete their various tasks in a timely, rational way.   In fact, it is hard to be constructively critical because it appears no on has done anything they should have when they should have done it--other than commit WMATA to a multi-billion dollar acquisition using other people's money.  The result is an extensive delay in getting the Silver Line the cars it needs and paying tens, if not hundreds, of millions more for cars arriving for the entire system several years late.